Understanding The Basics of REITs

Congress created REITs in 1960 to make investments in large-scale, income-producing real estate accessible to average investors. Congress decided that a way for average investors to invest in large-scale commercial properties was the same way they invest in other industries — through the purchase of equity. In the same way shareholders benefit by owning stocks of other corporations, the stockholders of a REIT earn a pro-rata share of the economic benefits that are derived from the production of income through commercial real estate ownership. REITs offer distinct advantages for investors: portfolio diversification, strong and reliable dividends, liquidity, solid long-term performance and transparency. Learn more.

Number of REITs

REIT resources:

As of Sept. 30, 2015, there were 199 REITs listed on the New York Stock Exchange. These REITs have a combined equity market capitalization of $847 billion.

Additionally, there are REITs that are registered with the SEC but are not publicly traded, and REITs that are not registered with the SEC or traded on a stock exchange. Internal Revenue Service shows that there are about 1,100 U.S. REITs that have filed tax returns.

Types of REITs

The REIT industry has a diverse profile, which offers many investment opportunities. REITs often are classified in one of two categories: equity or mortgage.

Equity REITs:
Equity REITs mostly own and operate income-producing real estate. They increasingly have become real estate operating companies engaged in a wide range of real estate activities, including leasing, maintenance and development of real property and tenant services. One major distinction between Equity REITs and other real estate companies is that a REIT must acquire and develop its properties primarily to operate them as part of its own portfolio rather than to resell them once they are developed.

Mortgage REITs:
Mortgage REITs mostly lend money directly to real estate owners and operators or extend credit indirectly through the acquisition of loans or mortgage-backed securities. Today's Mortgage REITs generally extend mortgage credit only on existing properties. Many mortgage REITs also manage their interest rate and credit risks using securitized mortgage investments, dynamic hedging techniques and other accepted derivative strategies.


Types of properties REITs own and manage

REITs own and manage a variety of property types: shopping centers, health care facilities, apartments, warehouses, office buildings, hotels and others. Most REITs specialize in one property type only, such as shopping malls, timberlands, data centers or self-storage facilities.

Some REITs invest throughout the country or in some cases, throughout the world. Others specialize in one region only, or even in a single metropolitan area.



Difference between REITs and partnerships

REITs are not partnerships. Most publicly traded REITs are vertically integrated real estate companies that develop, own and actively manage commercial real estate. Shares in these companies are traded, the same as other stocks, on major exchanges, providing complete liquidity and market pricing. Publicly traded REITs are subject to the same financial disclosure requirements as other publicly traded companies. Independent corporate governance consultants have rated the REIT industry's governance among the best of all U.S. industry groups.